A story of survival: DHS students visit with local Holocaust survivor

Written by Karen Wong  |  Published Date
 |  Published Date

“You can’t be kidnapped by hell and not be harmed."

Holocaust survivor Isaac Jack Trompetter spoke to group of Duxbury High School Holocaust Studies students who visited the Facing History and Ourselves Center in Brookline last Thursday.

Trompetter was born in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in 1942. At that time, Jews were not permitted to hold prominent positions, were required to wear yellow stars on their clothes and could only purchase food after others had completed their shopping. Trompetter’s father risked his life venturing out to the hospital after the 8 p.m. curfew to see his first-born child. Today, the former curly haired child, stands over 6 feet tall, is bald with gray moustache, smooth skin and a breezy yet somewhat guarded demeanor.

Life for Jews in Amsterdam got even worse in the months following Trompetter’s birth. “Jews were beaten up just for fun and lived in a state of terror,” Tompetter said. 

Jews were then forced to go into hiding with families that Trompetter described as “having found the voice of God in their hearts to take in Jews on the run.”   He was obviously moved when he described the ordinary people who took great risks to help themselves and others.

Going into hiding was a risky undertaking for both the Jews and those who housed them, for if the Nazis discovered them, death was almost certain. Many families split up in order to improve the chance that at least some members would survive and such was the case with Jack Trompetter. His parents made the wrenching decision to send their three-month-old baby with a relative north of Amsterdam while they moved in with Jan and Cora VanDomburg, a brother and sister who lived in a town south of Amsterdam. To increase the chance of survival, family members often didn’t tell one another where they were going. Love, being more powerful than prudence at times, prompted Trompetter’s mother to send Cora to find baby Jack and make sure he was okay.  Cora found him in a place that she felt was not safe, an orphanage adjacent to a Nazi barracks. Cora was fortunate to find an older couple willing to care for the tiny infant.  Trompetter’s mother knitted a cap and scarf for him that would serve as a means to identify him in the weeks, months or as it turned out, years that followed before the war was over.  

While in hiding, Trompetter’s mother taught Cora how to sew and the two became busy darning worn clothes. The women traded this valuable service for food. While such commerce was strictly forbidden in occupied Holland, the black market allowed many to survive.  

At the same time, the DeGroots in the village of Heinote cared for Jack Trompetter on their farm. Trompetter said he has two memories from his time with the DeGroots. He remembers one time being rushed into a closet with his Hobby Horse when visitors came to call. Trompetter also recalls the sounds of distant explosions, perhaps by the British near the end of the war. Being so young, Trompetter hasn’t retained emotions associated with the time, but even to this day, the scent of a farm gives him comfort, something he attributes to living on the DeGroots farm for nearly three years. 

Shortly after the liberation on May 8, 1945, Trompetter was reunited with his parents and some other family members.  At first the DeGroots didn’t want to give the toddler back to his biological parents and indeed, it was difficult for Trompetter to separate from the only parents he had known. Jack slowly adjusted to his new life, but the early childhood trauma came back to haunt him causing him to have a breakdown not long after the war.  It was the DeGroots wish to have young Jack baptised to “protect him in case the Nazis were to regain power,” said Trompetter, but his parents were not comfortable with the idea of having two sets of parents for Jack and chose to cut ties with the DeGroots.

The years following the end of WWII were tough in Holland. Anti-Semitism was worse than it had been before the war. Trompetter remarked that, “When people saw a Jew, they would say, ‘What, the Germans missed you?’” In Holland before the war, there were 140,000 Jews. After the war, there were 20,000. Only 5,000 Jewish children survived, said Trompetter.

After working and saving money, in 1949, Trompetter’s family moved to New Jersey and then to New York, where he grew up in the 1950s.  Trompetter’s family raised him and his cousin Andy, who Jack thought was his brother for many years, in a house filled with love. The boys were raised with strong values of work, kindness, respect, and more kindness. 

“My parents were heroic to raise me with love despite the fact they knew swine,” Trompetter said.

Trompetter had seen bitterness take over some survivors but his parents chose love.  Sadly, that love was not enough to keep the horrors of the past
from clouding his cousin Andy’s life. Andy’s parents (Jack’s aunt and uncle) were killed during the Holocaust and Andy, too, died as a young man in this 30s in part because of the deep scars the war left on him.

In the mid 1980s, Trompetter went back to Holland to see what he could find from his past. It was an uneasy trip for his mother. Trompetter said she felt such strong guilt about giving him up when he was a baby. Trompetter consoled her by saying he knew she did it out of love. His mother would take comfort for a time, only to slip back into feeling terrible guilt. While his parents were uneasy about seeking out the DeGroots, they did accompany their son to Heinote in search of the family farm. Modern highways and progress had erased what was left of that rural area. Even a visit to the local registry provided no information on what became of the couple that lovingly cared for Jack during his first three years of life. So many questions will remain unanswered for Trompetter.

Cora and Jan VanDomburg relocated to New York and were like an aunt and uncle to Trompetter. The two families remained close until the senior Trompetters’ and VanDomburgs’ deaths.

Since childhood, art was an escape for Trompetter, who is an artist by trade. Judaism became an important part of his life through the years, and Trompetter believes that retelling his story is his responsibility to his family and the countless others who cannot.

The high school students were moved by Trompetter’s matter of fact story telling and were glad to bear witness. When a student asked how often Trompetter thinks about the war, he responded, several times a week. He also said, “with trauma, it is always there, but if you are lucky, it doesn’t destroy you.” 

FY16 budget grows

Written by Susanna Sheehan  |  Published Date
 |  Published Date

On Monday, Town Manager Rene Read presented a balanced budget for fiscal year 2016 totaling over $68.9 million, which is a 2.86 percent increase over the current year’s budget.
Read outlined his budget for the Board of Selectmen at their weekly meeting on Dec. 15. 
While the budget is balanced, Read cautioned that it was still fluid due to fluctuating economic conditions and that it could change before it is adopted by residents at the annual Town Meeting on Saturday, March 14.
The 2.86 percent increase applies to the town’s entire budget. The operating budget will rise 3.75 percent, according to Read. Much of this expansion is due to the costs of funding settled union contracts.
“The increase in operating costs is related to long-overdue collective bargaining contracts that have been recently settled,” said Read. “FY2016 will provide funding for all union settlements with the exception of firefighters and dispatchers. While these settlements have a profound effect on the budget, they have been long overdue and resulted in all parties being reasonably happy with the outcomes.”
Finance Director John Madden explained that in certain departments, it appears that their salary budget lines are rising by 5 or 6 percent, however these increases are really a reflection of funding three years of contracts, 2014-2016, in the FY16 budget. 
A portion of the union contracts will be funded during the special town meeting next year. Read explained that taking those adjustments into consideration, the overall budget increase is “in the 2.71 percent range.”
The town’s general government budget, which includes most of the departments in town hall, will increase by 12.44 percent, for a total of $2.8 million.  Many of these departments show the 5-6 percent salary increases related to the union settlements. 
The public safety budget of just over $7.2 million shows an increase of 5.09 percent with a notable 18 percent increase in the harbormaster’s expense budget and a 19 percent increase in the municipal services expense budget. 
The public works budget of $4.047 million is holding steady with an overall increase of 1.06 percent. Some public works expense budgets show decreases ranging from two to nine percent.
The human services budget for next year currently totals $663,876, a 1.15 percent increase. This includes a decrease in the Council on Aging’s expense budget and a 4 percent rise in expenses for veteran’s services.
The library and recreation budget totals $1.48 million, a 3.28 percent increase. The library’s total budget is $1.28 million.  Library salaries are rising by 4.13 percent, while expenses show a modest .64 percent increase.
The Duxbury school district’s budget for next year totals over $32.93 million, a 3.13 percent increase. This includes $25.8 million for salaries, a 2.78 percent increase, and $7 million for expenses, a 4.44percent rise. The expense budget line item includes an extra $300,000 to fund the annual laptop leases for grades 8-12.
Also included in the FY16 budget are $10.3 million for employee benefits, a 4.5 percent increase; $516,238 for property and liability insurance costs and reserve fund expenses; and $8.874 million for debt service for the town and schools.
The water enterprise fund for next year will amount to $2.25 million, a rise of 2.17 percent. The water department operating budget has declined by less than one percent, but the debt service on water projects will increase by over 11 percent due to the bond sold for the new water mains on Pine Street. Additional water department capital projects are on the horizon, said Read.
The Percy Walker pool budget is set at $384,193, a 3.43 increase. An enterprise fund, the pool is supposed to be able to pay for itself through its revenues. However, “while the pool remains a busy and vibrant focal point in Duxbury, revenues continue to meet or fall slightly below budget,” said Read.  The fund receives a 5 percent subsidy from the town’s general fund. 
Read touched on projected revenues that will be used to fund the town’s budget next year. Taxation provides 80 percent of the town’s revenues. The increase in taxation under Proposition 2 1/2, which caps revenue growth at 2.5 percent of the previous year’s tax levy, will amount to $1.179 million. In addition, new growth, or the value of new construction, adds additional funds. Read expects that for FY16, new growth will be near the FY15 level of an additional $434,257. 
Read called the increases in new construction and rising property values “promising news.” 
State aid provides just over 9 percent of the town’s revenues. Read doesn’t expect much of an increase in state aid for next year and he has included slightly over 2.1 percent more than the $5.9 million in state aid included in the current budget.
“There is no reason to believe there will be any dramatic increases in local aid,” Read told selectmen. “While it looks like the legislature will live up to what it feels are its funding obligations, Beacon Hill clearly does not have its own house in order.”
Local receipt revenues – money from fees and permits – are projected to rise 3.55 percent and total over $7.3 million for FY16. They rose more than 6 percent this year due to motor vehicle excise taxes, earnings on investments and fines and forfeits revenue, said Madden. However, both he and Read decided not to count on that money for two years in a row and budgeted the figures for local receipts more conservatively.
“I can’t explain the jump in motor vehicle excise taxes,” Madden said, adding that he will also be monitoring any impact on the town’s local revenues once a new crematory in Braintree has been operating for a while. 
Both Read and Madden touched on the capital budget for 2016.  The town’s goal is to provide $1 million for this budget. Most of this money comes from free cash, a savings account that annually takes in money from fees and permits and other sources, including money left unused from town budgets. 
“While Free Cash continues to be the foundation of our program funding, we will continue to utilize, whenever possible, other one-time revenues to fund worthy programs,” said Read. 
This year, the town was able to fund over $1.6 million in capital requests with $914,342 coming from free cash with an additional $455,000 from such sources as the overlay surplus account, the sales of lots and graves account, insurance proceeds, and balances form prior years' articles.
Currently, capital requests for next year total over $2.18 million. This amount includes several vehicles such as a fire department pumper engine and a six-wheel dump truck, as well as a number of other items such as emergency cardiac defibrillators, new fire detection equipment, and communication upgrades. 
“While we will not be able to fund all requests, we are confident that we will be able to fund the Town’s most urgent building and equipment needs,” said Read.
Madden is expecting to have $2 million in free cash, which is enough money for capital projects and the necessary reserve–fund transfers while leaving money for unexpected expenses and future union contract settlements.

DHS climate concerns: Data shows improvement; parents’ questions unanswered

Written by Gillian Smith  |  Published Date
 |  Published Date

Members of the Duxbury High School administration addressed concerns about the school’s culture and climate at last week’s School Committee meeting, highlighting the improvement in school culture since 2007. 

DHS principal Andrew Stephens gave a presentation to the committee last Wednesday and discussed the differences between the climate of the high school when he arrived in Duxbury as principal and this year.

The four main areas of concern for parents and students were the school’s search and seizure policy, chemical healthy policy, free speech and student voice. 

Stephens discussed the culture and climate of the school during the 2007-08 school year. 

At the time, he was the sixth new principal in five years and he conducted a survey of the faculty to get an impression of what the culture and climate was like at DHS. Stephens presented comments from the survey that showed members of the faculty thought the school had a culture of mistrust and disrespect between students and teachers and that tardiness was a major issue for students. 

“Ultimately, we needed to get control of the school,” he said. “Overall the kids were really good kids but there were some problematic behaviors tied to the fact that for five years [the school] was a rudderless ship.”

Stephens said one of the major improvements over the years was creating a cell phone policy that allows students to use cell phones in between classes and at lunch, which staves off the desire to use cell phones in class. 

“It preserves the sanctity of the classroom,” he said.

Another notable improvement, Stephens said, was the increase in discipline for tardiness, which in turn decreased the number of unexcused tardies per student. 

With regards to search and seizure, Stephens cited the 1985 US Supreme Court case New Jersey v. T.L.O., in which the court ruled that students have “legitimate expectations of privacy,” but that must be balanced with the school’s responsibility for “maintaining an environment in which learning can take place.” With this ruling, school officials may search a student’s property if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a school rule has been broken, or student has committed or is in the process of committing a crime. 

“It’s a different set of circumstances tied to the standard of ‘in loco parentis,’” Stephens said. “In the absence of the parent, the adults in building basically are the parents.”

With cell phones, Stephens said a search would be warranted in the case of potential cheating on the MCAS or SATs, cheating on a test within the school, bullying or harassment via email, texting or social media, and sexting. 

“[Sexting] can be one of, or all of, three felonies tied to sexting,” Stephens said. “It’s a felony to take a photo of an underage student in any state of nakedness; it’s a felony to have it on your phone, and it’s a felony to send it to somebody.” 

Stephens also discussed the issue of free speech at the meeting.

“The constitution, indeed, does not stop at the door for students,” he said.

Stephens addressed the termination of football coach Harry Taylor and the students who wanted to show support for Taylor symbolically by wearing “Free T” on their t-shirts at school. The “Free T” slogan began on Twitter, with supporters tagging their tweets with #FreeT. 

“The issue was one of physical assault,” he said. “There were two victims who are current members of the student body. Numerous threats, including one threatening to kill these students, had been addressed at these students, on Twitter, because of an erroneous assumption that they had reported the incident.”

Stephens said he was faced with two options: take no action and let the students wear “Free T” on their shirts, or ask them to change. By doing nothing, he said,  two problems would arise. 

“One, it negates the concerns of the victims and their respective parents,” he said. “Two, it could be construed, by a reasonable examination of the context, that the allowance of this could be creating a hostile environment.”

“The perspective that students are being arbitrarily disciplined, left and right, simply isn’t the case,” he said. “It’s a totally different school. Tardies, behavioral issues, unexcused tardies are at an all time low and have been for the past two years. This came after four years of hard work to articulate and consistently uphold expectations.” 
During the public comments portion of the meeting, residents expressed their dismay and concern with the climate at the high school. Resident Fred Sowa referred to a comment he made at a previous meeting, when he expressed concern with not having received any response to an email he sent in October. At Wednesday’s meeting, he said he had finally received a response at the end of November. 

Sowa requested several things from the committee, including investigation and confirmation that Superintendent Ben Tantillo’s earlier statement on the Harry Taylor incident accurately reflected the content of the report of the incident, confirmation that the content of the surveillance video of the incident was properly reported and confirmation that any student who was interviewed in relation to the incident was in the presence of an adult. 

Elaine Haffey said she was “deeply concerned” about the current climate and culture of the high school. 

“I am concerned that something has gone off course in our high school,” she said. “I speak with a desire for a positive school environment where our kids can experience respect and growth and where they have a voice and are part of the process.” 

Haffey said she was part of a group that met with administrators last year to discuss what they perceived as an “overall climate of student distrust of the administration.” She said she also had concerns about the disciplinary process and the perception that members of the administration “rule through fear and intimidation.” 

Haffey said she is encouraged by the plans for a parent and student survey on DHS culture and climate, but asks that the survey be conducted and reviewed by and independent group that will be “accountable for the results with no personal interest.” She also asked for a comprehensive review of DHS disciplinary policies and procedures and a review of the handbook and standard operating procedures. 

Resident John Clark said he supported improving the discipline at the schools, but is disappointed that there has been no discussion of culture and climate improvements on the level of the educators. 

“We need a balanced discussion of the implementation of culture of our school,” he said. 

Clark also expressed concern with the use of the School Committee meetings as a platform to air grievances and handle business such as the Harry Taylor incident. 

Marsha Dow  also spoke at the meeting and said she brought with her six years experience as a school committee member and three years as a school committee chair. She was also a teacher and school administrator. Dow, who owns a store in town, said she has had several customers come into her store asking her what to do about the current perception of culture at the school. 

When Dow was on the school committee, she said, they also had an incident involving the termination of a teacher. 

“It was the school committee’s responsibility,” she said. “We had meetings -- they were open --  we had a lot of students there, and it was even covered by television at one point. From what I’ve heard the decisions are being made from the bottom up instead of the top down. The School Committee used to set procedure and policy, not principals.”

Carbon monoxide at the pool: Percy Walker Pool closed Monday

Written by Gillian Smith  |  Published Date
 |  Published Date

The Percy Walker Pool was closed on Monday after high levels of carbon monoxide were detected in the building. 

The Duxbury firefighters entered the building using air masks after the building was evacuated to try to find the cause. The gas company was also on hand at the pool. 

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is toxic to humans when encountered in high concentrations. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and a feeling of weakness. After going through the building, it was determined that a faulty heating vent was the cause of the elevated carbon monoxide levels. 

No injuries were reported. 

The Duxbury Fire Department urged residents to check carbon monoxide detectors in their homes to see if they are working properly, now that the heating season has begun. 

Beautifying and enticing: Study shows strategies to improve Hall’s Corner

Written by Susanna Sheehan  |  Published Date
 |  Published Date


A new study of Hall’s Corner suggests creating a cohesive businesses district to help bring in new businesses and customers, Selectmen learned Monday night.

Protecting Duxbury: Grants to address beach preservation; water pollution

Written by Susanna Sheehan  |  Published Date
 |  Published Date

Duxbury has been award- ed two state grants totaling $331,250. One grant is for a study of Duxbury Beach to aid in conservation efforts and the other will allow the town to finish an ongoing water pollution remediation project.